One evening last August, as President Hamid Karzai wrapped up an official visit to Iran, his personal plane sat on the airport tarmac, waiting for a late-running passenger: Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
The ambassador, Feda Hussein Maliki, finally appeared, taking a seat next to Umar Daudzai, Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff and his most trusted confidant. According to an Afghan official on the plane, Mr. Maliki handed Mr. Daudzai a large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills. A second Afghan official confirmed that Mr. Daudzai carried home a large bag of cash.
“This is the Iranian money,” said an Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Many of us noticed this.”
You wait a long time to write a lede like this.
Buying off politicians — or, really, just throwing around enough cash to make politicians think twice about crossing you — is a pretty cost-effective asymmetric technique for a weaker adversary. If you’re the stronger power, paying off proxies is a crapshoot: the reason why you’re doing it is to effect an outcome; and chances are your strategy depends on that outcome coming to pass. Accordingly, you give a lot of leverage to the sponsored politician. He can raise the price pretty easily. But if you’re a hostile, weaker adversary, paying the same guy is a sensible strategy. You don’t need him to do something specific or tangible. All you need is to introduce some counterincentive against him doing what Big Powerful Adversary wants him to do.